Interview with Sandra Stosz


Be Bold and Reach High

Interview with Sandra Stosz

Servant | Leader | Author | Leadership Keynote Speaker | Leading with Character Blog
First woman Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, United States Coast Guard,
directing one of the Coast Guard’s largest enterprises.

Interviewed by Yasmina Khelifi
International Correspondent, PM World Journal
Paris, France

Introduction to the interviewee

Admiral Sandy Stosz started out in the US Coast Guard as an ensign serving aboard polar icebreakers, conducting national security missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Her forty-year career was filled with leadership lessons gleaned while breaking ice and breaking glass as the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a US armed forces service academy. Along the way, Sandy served for 12 years at sea, commanding two ships, and led large Coast Guard organizations during times of crisis and complexity. She finished her career as the first woman assigned as Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, directing one of the Coast Guard’s largest enterprises. She has lectured widely on leadership and has been featured on CSPAN and other media outlets. In 2012, Newsweek’s “The Daily Beast” named Sandy to their list of 150 Women who Shake the World. She volunteers in leadership roles for several organizations, including as a trustee for the Coast Guard Academy Institute for Leadership and as chair of the Coast Guard Academy Sailing Council.

Her latest book: Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters

Read more and get in touch with Sandra:
Her website: https://sandrastosz.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandra-stosz-584a652b/


Q1:     First of all, thank you for accepting an interview request from PMWJ. You were the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a US Armed Forces service academy. What helped you to be so successful in your career?

Sandra Stosz (Stosz):    Thank you, Yasmina, for inviting me to interview with PMWJ – what an honor!  I entered the US Coast Guard, one of the Nation’s five armed services, in 1978 as a cadet at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. I was in the third Academy class that had women, so I ended up being the first or only woman in most all of my positions for my entire career…I couldn’t escape being the first even though I just wanted to blend in. I retired 40 years later as a Vice Admiral in the position of Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, which is the senior executive level. My last job was roughly the equivalent of the chief operating officer of a public or private organization.

There are a lot of things that helped me succeed. I certainly didn’t succeed on my own! We have incredible people in the US Coast Guard, and I attribute much of my success to those who served with and for me. For instance, when I was captain of the icebreaker KATMAI BAY on the Great Lakes, I relied on the 17-member crew to perform the necessary functions like preparing the ship to get underway, performing the operations and maintenance, and ordering the supplies. Each person on that ship depended on the other to accomplish the mission. That’s how it was throughout my entire career.

I also did my part to succeed by working hard and persevering. Those words are two sides of the same coin. You’ve got to work hard to get ahead, but you can’t quit or give up when you meet resistance—you’ve got to persevere. You’ve got to go around the obstacles or break through the barriers. I learned to take the responsibility to make good choices, then push forward and not blame others if I fell short of my goals. So, success is a combination of relying on your teammates, and doing your part to work hard and persevere to accomplish the mission or get the job done.

Q2:   You worked in male dominated environment. Were you discriminated? In what ways?

Stosz:    As one of the first women to graduate from the US Coast Guard Academy, I spent my career in a mostly-male environment. For instance, when I entered the Academy in 1978 there were only about 5% women in a corps of cadets of 1,000. I didn’t face overt discrimination. But I encountered some men who didn’t believe women belonged in the Coast Guard, or any branch of the military. Those men were unsupportive, but they were the small minority. Most men accepted women in the Service, but didn’t know how to react to them in the workforce. As the first or only woman at many of my duty stations, I took the initiative to “break the ice” figuratively and help the men understand that working with and/or for a woman was no different than working with and/or for a man. I had been raised with three brothers, and believe that helped me fit in with the men. I was used to being the only woman, so I was comfortable with that dynamic; it was the men who were off-balance. I soon found that being different, as in the only or one of the few women, could actually be a superpower! Since the men didn’t know what to expect, I took the initiative to set and explain the expectations. And I did it in a positive way, with humour, which lightened the atmosphere and made it easier for me to build trust with the men.

Q3:     What are your 3 top pieces of advice for women working in male dominated environments? For men in environment where there are so few women?


To read entire interview, click here

How to cite this interview: Khelifi, Y. (2022). Be Bold and Reach High; Interview with Sandra Stosz; PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue XII, December. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/pmwj124-Dec2022-Khelifi-Interview-with-Sandra-Stosz.pdf

About the Interviewer

Yasmina Khelifi

Paris, France


Yasmina Khelifi, PMP, PMI- ACP, PMI-PBA is an experienced project manager in the telecom industry. Along with her 20-year career at Orange S.A. (the large French multinational telecommunications corporation), she sharpened her global leadership skills, delivering projects with major manufacturers and SIM makers. Yasmina strives for building collaborative bridges between people to make international projects successful. She relies on three pillars: project management skills, the languages she speaks, and a passion for sharing knowledge.

She is a PMP certification holder since 2013, a PMI- ACP and PMI-PBA certification holder since 2020. She is an active volunteer member at PMI France and PMI UAE, and a member of PMI Germany Chapter. French-native, she can speak German, English, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and she is learning Arabic. Yasmina loves sharing her knowledge and experiences at work, in her volunteers’ activities at PMI, and in projectmanagement.com as a regular blogger. She is also the host and co-founder of the podcast Global Leaders Talk with Yasmina Khelifi to help people in becoming better international leaders.

Yasmina can be contacted at https://yasminakhelifi.com/ or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yasminakhelifi-pmp-telecom/

Visit her correspondent profile at https://pmworldlibrary.net/yasmina-khelifi/